You prep for your morning weekend run, a shot of espresso some quick general stretches, maybe a golf ball under the arch of your foot. If you know you know you know :). You prep for that Monday morning meeting, notes prepared and confident in your contributing ideas to serve your team. You probably even prepare for that big party, haircut or new outfit. We do these things because we place value on the experience we intend to have as result of that preparation. Our actions express our priorities. What do our actions say about the priority we place on the quantity and quality of our sleep? If we know how essential sleep is to our performance the following day, mood upon waking, appetite hunger hormones, ability to learn and retain new information as well as form memories, not to mention the repairing of the body’s cells through protein synthesis and other hormonal cascades, then where does it sit for you and your daily performance standard. Here I will provide my top 5 tips to help your approach in preparing for a better night sleep tonight.
1. -90 minutes. Shut it down: Electrical
Ideally ninety minutes prior to you turning your lights out, turn your screens off. Main focus here would be desktop / laptop use. From 60 minutes screen time should be limited as much as possible. The iPad / tablets and phones here are the main culprits. The concern here …. Blue light!! This is emitted from all our electrical devices and can significantly suppress the darkness hormone melatonin which helps us fall to sleep. Part of our circadian rhythm which is our body’s biological clock of sleep and wake cycles, is the release of melatonin from the pineal gland in the brain. If we are sitting in front of a blue light screen at an hour when our body has habituated to get ready for darkness, we are sending mixed messages. Therefore, sleep latency is pre-longed and amount of time spent in deep restorative sleep is compromised. Turn it off! Consider a family charging station in the house for overnight. Parents set the president here. Phone is your alarm excuse? buy and alarm clock!
2. – 30 minutes. Drink it in: Parasympathetic
Drink a herbal tea. Evidence suggest some herbal teas have muscle relaxant properties and calming effects on some receptors in the brain. This will assist in driving the body towards a parasympathetic state of its autonomic nervous system. Throughout the day its natural to be dominated by the sympathetic branch (fight or flight). Rightly so. That presentation to the board requires a degree of excitability to help sharpen your focus and deliver. The lunch time gym session kicked your heart rate up and fired motor-neurons to allow you to lift, sprint, push and pull. Now however, you’re not doing those things, we want the parasympathetic branch (rest and digest) to lead you. Camomile / Peppermint and lavender are popular choices. As tempting as the cup of builder’s tea may be with that chocolate digestive, it contains caffeine and will wake up your fight or flight.
3. -20 minutes. Physiology – Temperature
We like it cool. Our bodies core temperature beings to drop as we naturally get closer to falling asleep. The temperature in your bedroom can play a big role. Between 18 – 20 degrees centigrade is generally considered optimal. What we want to avoid, is our body thermoregulating during a period when I t should be naturally cooling and preparing to be still. Much like the confusion we will signal to the body with the blue light and darkness cycle, heating up when our internal core is cooling down will again compromise sleep latency. Conventional wisdom used to say a nice warm bath before bed will help you relax. That it will do, but next time you do that, notice if it takes you any longer to fall asleep than if you say had a warm shower but turned the tap to cold for 20-30 seconds. The cold will also reduce excitability in the central nervous system again helping a parasympathetic drive.
4. 10 Minutes. Read – Light focus
Reading just for 10 minutes has been proven to be more effective than listening to music, taking a short walk or enjoying a warm drink at reducing levels of stress. It immediately slows down our breathing rate and the light focus required far more effectively fills the void of feeding the brain junk such as click bait news and numbing stories about who got voted off British bake off. Even if you were reading a thriller or novel that excited the imagination, the calming effects and benefits for creativity, language and learning will far exceed those than just hoping into bed picking up the screen or contemplating thoughts on events you have no control over anyway. Keep calm and read.
5. Lights out – The cave
Come night time we should view our conditions for sleep like a cave. Dark, cool and quiet. Invest in some good blinds or curtains, your thermostat is set to help you and the place is quiet. Urban dwellers, consider silicone ear plugs. They fit great and do the job great. Finally – Mattress – worth saving up for. A soft topper on top of a medium to firm mattress is recommended. A good test is, can you lie still on your back for 10-15 minutes. If before that time you feel you need to move, adjust because your lower back aches or you want to bend the knees, chances are your mattress is not right for you.
Ok really last thing …. A Word about wearables… If you would like to monitor your sleep closer with wearables like a Fitbit or Garmin or devices such as beddit or the sleep score app, go ahead. Definitely can be insightful. I can only offer my personal opinion here. I have tried quite a few, and personally I can confidently say, I sleep better without them. The little green light on wrist-based monitors is enough to catch my eye when I toss and turn, checking my scores with anticipation on things like sleep score/beddit involve having my phone nearby and using that to get feedback. It just doesn’t work for me. Each time I do away with the watch / phone or app and not over think it … I just sleep better and wake up easier.
With force and grace,